Sunday, 21 January 2007

new term

I finally decided what courses I want to take this term. The first year PhDs are slaving away at micro, macro and 'metrics, but I have just two courses with serious homework, plus a course with Marco Battaglini on political economy. Then two independent study courses. This is a lot of fun: presenting papers, trying to write down models. Next term I will be slogging again - two or three big, heavy courses and teaching as well. Teaching should be fun, it's a course on rational choice theories of politics.

Light reading: C V Wedgwood's The Thirty Years War. I read history with a social scientist's eye, spotting the kinds of explanations used. Lots of them fit rational choice and game theory - the politics, diplomacy, and military history. Others emphasize character and individual cognitive biases. The big question mark is religion. How do we explain that so many people were prepared to die for their beliefs? Answers on a postcard. (The best answer I've got comes from Dan Sperber's book Explaining Culture. It's a start, at least.)

Anyway, I tend to prefer old history books. Whig history seems a pretty reasonable world view to me, and the old ones are better written and (I can't help thinking) were written by cleverer people: some of the best minds of their time. I suspect that is less true nowadays.

Just had a nice evening playing cards with a multicultural crew. First a strange game a bit like Hearts, then something very simple called Happy King, then Cheat. Cheat is a fabulous game especially when played with inherently dishonest people. Unfortunately we academics are too upright and virtuous. You need a few really expert liars.